Apple’s Letter To NHTSA Hints It Is Still Pursuing Autonomous Car Technology

Apple has refused to confirm or deny it is developing an autonomous electric vehicle, but a recent letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates it does have skin in the game.

The Nov. 22 letter to NHTSA from Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity said Apple “is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”

“Executed properly under NHTSA’s guidance, automated vehicles have the potential to greatly enhance the human experience — to prevent millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year and to give mobility to those without,” Kenner wrote.

The letter goes on to say that both established manufacturers and “new entrants” should be treated equally as to maximize the safety benefits of the technology.

SEE ALSO: Musk Expects Apple to Roll Out Electric Car by 2020

That implies that while Apple is not an automaker it should be treated the same as manufacturers like Ford, General Motors or Tesla.

In the letter Apple also proposes that car companies share data from crashes and near-misses in order to pool data on autonomous technology and thereby design better systems. However, it also acknowledges that this should only be done if it does not breach an individual’s privacy.

While the letter is somewhat arcane, Apple issued a separate statement that’s more direct.

“We’ve provided comments to NHTSA because Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems,” the Apple spokesman said. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry.

Apple has never confirmed reports that it was hiring automotive industry engineers and designers to develop a driverless electric car or, as we reported in October, those efforts have been sharply scaled back.

SEE ALSO: Is Apple Building An EV It Has No Intention To Produce?

While the letter and following issued statement isn’t a confirmation that Apple is planning to build an autonomous electric car, the project has a working title given to it by Apple’s president Tim Cook: Project Titan.

When asked about the Apple car at a recent shareholder meeting, Cook gave a coy reply

“Do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve it was so exciting you weren’t sure what was going to be downstairs?” said Cook. “Well, it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while.”

While the letter to NHSTA and subsequent statement to the press offer little detail, they at least are more confirmation concerning an Apple car than has been given in the past.

The big unanswered question is whether Apple is developing its own autonomous electric car or developing everything for a platform that will be used by an existing, or perhaps new, automaker?

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